A Minnesota plea for sensible gun laws

Published 8:04 am Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Americans watched in awe as a group of Florida teenagers, still in shock over having classmates slaughtered and facing their own imminent mortality, galvanized the conscience of a nation and spoke defiantly to the adults who have failed them.

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In Minnesota, even as high school students marched on Minneapolis City Hall, youngsters in Orono public schools were sheltering in place during an hourslong lockdown over the threat of gun violence by a student who was later arrested for making terroristic threats. Minnesotans turned out at the State Capitol in force twice this week, rallying for changes to gun laws.

We hope they are prepared to dig in. The backlash, led by the NRA, has already started, and it promises to be fierce, even turning on the student survivors who dare to challenge the status quo. Meanwhile, the incidents continue to pile up.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board has long advocated for federal gun reforms. But let’s not wait on Washington. Minnesotans can take meaningful action now, knowing that this will be a long road. Start by halting further attempts to weaken gun laws in this state. A “permitless carry” bill at the Legislature would allow most everyone, save for felons, to carry guns in public places without a permit. To what end? It is already absurdly easy to get a permit in Minnesota. An analysis of 10 years of state data by the advocacy group Protect Minnesota showed that between 2006 and 2016, a stunning 98.8 percent of permit applications were approved. The few denials were for good reason: Unsuccessful applicants were considered a danger to themselves or others, had previous firearms violations, or had negative interactions with law enforcement.

There is common ground to be found in this debate, and here are three key areas:

Universal background checks

Minnesotans by a broad margin support closing loopholes that allow unlicensed private sellers at gun shows or online to forgo the background checks required of licensed gun dealers. Every firearms sale should include a background check. State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is sponsoring a bill that would do just that, with some exclusions for immediate family members and a limited number of other circumstances. SF 1261 is sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee awaiting a hearing. Minnesotans who want to see action on this front would be well-advised to call Senate leaders and demand that the bill be heard and testimony be taken from the public. Beyond requiring background checks, the bill would provide some teeth. Those who illegally transfer firearms without a background check could be subject to a gross misdemeanor for the first infraction, and a felony thereafter.

Gun violence protective orders

This is another measure that will not impinge on responsible, law-abiding gun owners but could go far toward preserving the safety of others. Brought forward by State Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, a Ramsey County prosecutor, HF 1609 would allow law enforcement and family members to petition the court to keep guns away from those who pose a significant danger to themselves or others, or who have court-issued protective orders. Experts have recognized certain behaviors as red flags that are a stronger predictor of future violence than a diagnosis of mental illness. This goes beyond a 2014 Minnesota law that bans gun ownership among those subject to domestic abuse and child abuse protective orders. Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Fla., shooter, was known to law enforcement because of troubling behavior. He might have been prevented from obtaining an AR-15 when he turned 18 had a law like HF 1609 been in place in Florida. Limited in scope, the law would provide needed due process by requiring a case to be made before the court.

Bump stocks

The Editorial Board first called for banning bump stocks after the slaughter in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire on concertgoers, aided by an add-on that allows a semiautomatic to fire nearly as rapidly as a fully automatic weapon. President Donald Trump has ordered the Justice Department to work toward such a ban, although it may require congressional action. But Minnesota can take action on its own. HF 2781 would classify such slide-fire stocks as “trigger activators,” devices that serve to approximate the rate of machine-gun fire.

This nation’s children are begging adults to stop the bashing and name-calling and work together on reasonable measures that can save lives. To be, in short, grown-ups.

The 2018 Legislature, which has just convened, can show its commitment to this grave topic by holding hearings on reasonable proposals and listening to the voices of Minnesotans.